I liked this book at first but my opinion of it rapidly declined as the improbabilities started piling up. The characters--even the purportedly intellectual Julia--don't really seem real. They behave irrationally at times and they seem to miss a lot of things that are obvious to the reader. The Alice character in particular seems like pure fabrication (she is, of course, but it was really hard for me to even pretend like she was real).
It's mostly little things that bothered me, but there were enough of them to really detract from the overall appeal of this story. Some examples: It takes forever for it to dawn on anyone what was made painfully obvious in the early pages--that Alice is not just a little girl who "wandered off during a camping trip." At one point the characters lament that they might have to turn the girl over to parents who have hurt her, which is ridiculous because I'm sure no court in the world would blindly turn over a child who'd been so obviously abused without some kind of evidence that the parents weren't the abusers. And then there's all that nonsense about Alice's ability to communicate with animals--give me a break. There are also inconsistencies--we are told that the girl only understands a few words, but then we are told that she'd been warned in quite explicit terms about how there are bad people out in the world who might want to harm her, something she supposedly understood quite well. And maybe I don't know how to treat starvation, but I'm pretty sure if you give a starving person waffles with sugary strawberry syrup and whipped cream, or greasy hamburgers and French fries you might actually kill her. Also, babies aren't born in the O.R. (which stands for "operating room") except by c-section, and any town big enough to have a hospital probably has an obstetrician (the author has Jack-of-all-trades doctor Max delivering babies and working in the E.R., too). Finally, at one point the author mentions that six-year-old Alice has been wearing the same diaper for a couple of days because no one can get close enough to change it but doesn't explain why a six year old girl wouldn't just take it off herself after it was so saturated as to be uncomfortable, oh, and apparently the girl doesn't poop despite all those burgers and whipped cream covered waffles.
The writing is sloppy in places too. I was especially annoyed by the author's lazy way of showing the passage of time: "An hour later," "30 minutes later," "for the next two hours ..." YAWN! That's really bad writing and I don't know if it's because this author has written so many books that she's stopped worrying about the quality of her work because she knows her name will sell them--or if she's just that bad at writing a transition. And at one point I asked myself whether or not I could continue reading about the "snot" flying out of the girl's nose, which happened at least three times. Yuck.
Finally, I really questioned the author's understanding of psychology, which it seems to me she would have needed to really effectively conquer this subject. It doesn't seem plausible to me, for example, that a psychiatrist would attempt to treat an obviously traumatized child who screams in abject terror at the sight of a dreamcatcher by bringing her a bunch of dreamcatchers to further traumatize her. I don't know, maybe that's how psychiatrists do things, but it didn't seem real to me.
The book did improve towards the end, when at last the story started to gain speed and actually became somewhat compelling. It was enough to make me up my rating from two stars to three, but it was very slow in getting there. Sadly, the ending was right back to improbable though it was easier to swallow because the characters had finally started to seem three dimensional.
In looking at the many other reviews, I realize I'm in a very small minority in my criticisms of this book, so maybe I'm just being overly picky or maybe I'm just flat wrong about some of my assumptions. But this story just didn't sit right with me, and I'm afraid I can't recommend it over the many other excellent novels out there.